The Sale of Seats

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

The sale of seats. This practice continued, probably more extensively than the patchy evidence suggests. A few patrons are known to have sold seats as a matter of course: Northumberland (Launceston); Lord St. Germans (St. Germans); Lord Hertford (Aldeburgh); Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington (Newtown, Isle of Wight); Joseph Everett (Ludgershall); John Fownes Luttrell (Minehead); Thomas Legh (Newton); Joseph Pitt (Malmesbury); Albany Savile (Okehampton), and Sir Mark Wood (Gatton). Doubtless there were others. The cost of known transactions varied, but the minimum for a Parliament seems to have been £5,000. This is what Northumberland charged at Launceston. Pitt ran to £6,000 at Malmesbury, and Sir Miles Nightingall handed over this sum to Cornwallis for a berth at Eye in 1820. Sir Charles Forbes was reported to have paid Pitt £12,000 for both Malmesbury seats in 1826. Sir Henry Russell was willing to part with £4,000 for a safe seat in 1820, as was John Norman Macleod in 1827. The terms for an annual or sessional bargain were between £1,000 and £1,500. Hudson Gurney paid Barrington £1,200 a year for his Newtown seat. At Chippenham John Grosett secured a seat from John Maitland in 1820 for £2,000 down for two years and £1,000 a year thereafter. Fownes Luttrell charged £1,000 a year at Minehead. Some patrons may have come close to pricing themselves out of the market. For example, William Russell offered the Bletchingley seats to the Grey ministry in 1831 for £1,500 down and £1,000 annually thereafter, terms which the premier considered exorbitant, although the treasury must have stumped up the cash. The conditions on which seats were to be held by the purchasers presumably varied, but evidence has survived of two such bargains. In 1830 Lord Mahon came in for Wootton Bassett after agreeing with George Villiers, the representative of Lord Clarendon, that

he was to pay £1,500 provided no petition had been presented against his return within the prescribed 14 days and to pay the same sum annually thereafter for the duration of the Parliament. He was liable for no expenses arising out of the canvass or election proceedings, and was to sit with absolute freedom of political action. Fitzwilliam required his Whig nominees for Malton to meet the expenses, which averaged £1,200 and included payments of a guinea to each elector and a dinner. When Hertford offered an Aldeburgh seat to government in 1826, he asked for a written undertaking by the Member to vacate in the event of political differences with him. Lord Liverpool considered these terms to be too stringent and rejected the offer.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Alan Davidson

End Notes